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Oneonta shifting south for organic apples

By the time the crew from the Oneonta Trading Corp, in Wenatchee, WA, is walking the exhibit floor at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association trade show in late April, the sales representatives back at the headquarters will be starting the transition to organic apples grown in New Zealand and Chile.

Oneonta-Purple-PLUOrganic Gala apples from Oneonta.Dan Davis, organic imports and product manager for the firm, will be at the show and touting the beginning of the new season for Southern Hemisphere organic apples. He explained that the storage capability for organic apples is truncated because companies cannot use ethylene inhibitors or fungicides on the organic fruit when they are put in the controlled atmosphere rooms during the fall harvest. Consequently, the fruit has to come out of the rooms earlier and cannot be marketed on a year-round basis like conventional apples. Davis said companies have been experimenting with different atmosphere levels and have extended the storage life of these apples, but they are pushing the envelope as one gets deeper into spring.

On April 2, he told The Produce News that organic Galas from Chile had already been shipped and would be available for sale by the last week of April. The first arrival of organic Galas from New Zealand is expected to land around May 1, and throughout that month there will be a methodical transition from organic domestic fruit to organic imports. “Each variety is scheduled to arrive about a week before we run out of Washington fruit,” he said, noting that will lead to a seamless transition for its customers.

However, they probably will note the larger size profile for the imports. For both conventional and organic apples, Davis said Washington has had a large crop with a preponderance of small fruit. That has led to a challenging marketing situation with most of the promotional opportunities focused on bagged fruit. “So far, we’ve been told that most of the imports should be 90s and larger.”

Davis said the “sweet spot” for most retailers is 80-88 count so the smaller Washington fruit this year has required lots of creativity to move the product. Washington had a much larger organic crop than previous seasons and even more transitioning fruit is expected in the next year or two. Davis indicated that the demand for organics continues to grow so the sheer volume was not the issue this year; it was the size of the fruit creating the challenges on both the conventional and organic sides of the equation.

The Oneonta representative said the company’s CPMA team will also be filling in its customers on Washington’s upcoming stone fruit and cherry crops. It was a bit early to gauge the size or timing of those crops, but Davis said by the end of April, when the show is being held, the information will be much more solid. “We think we are going to have a full crop of stone fruit and cherries, including a significant increase in organic stone fruit.”

At this early date, he anticipated the crops being ready near the end of June. Davis added that Canada is an emerging market for Oneonta’s stone fruit deal.

The Washington crop comes off earlier than the fruit that Canada grows domestically, and the firm believes there is a good opportunity for increased sales into that market this year.